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Peter Upton's

Subbuteo Tribute Website.

The Subbuteo Library.

Books and Magazines for your football shelf.

Pleasingly, this website is not the only source of information on the beautiful game. This page pulls together important information on books about or involving Subbuteo, as well as a (planned) little section on books that might prove fun for painters or collectors.

Part 1: Subbuteo Reference Books (UK)

Fifty Years of Flicking Football
by Richard Payne (1996).

ISBN 1-874427-02-X
Published by Yore Publications

You look at the publication date of this book, and realise that here is the groundwork for all subsequent Subbuteo histories. Even then, for Richard Payne, 1996 was the end of a long journey to publication. Richard explained the story of this publication in the Subbuteoworld club magazine in July 2004. He had actually written to Waddingtons asking if a Subbuteo history book existed in 1986. Annoyed that it didn't, in 1989 he decided to contact Peter Adolph directly. The would-be author and inventor met a number of times to work on the manuscript (well, Richard writing, and Peter Adolph talking!). The book was nearly finished by 1991, but a lack of interest by publishers delayed it for a few more years.

In the 1990s I didn't know any other Subbuteo collectors at all, and  I wondered if I was the only one still picking this stuff up. Luckily for Richard, a collectors club had formed in 1994, and help and enthusiasm from these early collecting pioneers helped with a final push to publication. The book was finally issued by Yore publications, who were a small press dealing in football related books - mostly obscure histories of minor clubs or players. The lack of the word "Subbuteo" on the cover is due to Waddingtons demanding a licensing fee. Ironic really, as many publishers had turned the book down because they thought Waddingtons should have put money into what they saw as an advertising project.

The author admits in his article that he has little interest in Subbuteo products after the 1970s. So the book's strengths are the early years, backed by Peter Adolph's stories and input. At this, it excels. There are a couple of points where you realise that you are reading a history that has become vintage itself (the valuations! plus the fact that Hasbro ownership is still to come), but in general it is still relevant, and hasn't been superseded at all.

Richard ends the book with a section of reminisces by famous football managers -  Dave Bassett, Dario Gradi, Graham Taylor and others. Whilst the author admits that this was a last minute exercise when he realised that the book was shorter than it needed to be, it was such an inspired idea that a whole book of such nonsense was released later (see below).

Flick to Kick - an illustrated history of Subbuteo.
by Daniel Tatarsky (2004)

 

ISBN 0-75286-083-6
Publisher: Orion Books Limited.

Flick to Kick arrived in 2004, in what I regard as the first flush of internet fuelled collecting/playing interest. Author Daniel Tatarsky was a voice from outside of the collecting community. His Subbuteo history was his first published book, and he has gone on to write books about Eagle magazine, and Dan Dare (I own the Dan Dare book, and it is a recommended read).

As Tatarsky isn't a collector (or serious player), his book doesn't get caught in the minutiae of Subbuteo production (unlike this site!). Instead, he gives a great overview of Peter Adolph, the characters he employed, and the company he created. It covers production history in some useful detail with as much facts and figures that exist (which probably isn't much).

The author had access to the collections of both Pete Whitehead and Mike Peacock, so the book is filled with illustrations of lovely rare Subbuteo items, but also, brilliantly, the kind of repaired, repainted, much over-used items you are much more likely to pick up second hand.....

The book received a second edition with a smart new cover, in the Marks and Spencer Subbuteo range of 2009.

Growing Up With Subbuteo - My Dad invented the world's greatest football game.
by Mark Adolph (2006)

ISBN 1-899807-40-3
Publisher: Sportbooks Ltd.

The third plank of Subbuteo history for your shelf is this biography of inventor Peter Adolph, by the person most suitable to do this - his only son, Mark.

Mark was born in 1956, so obviously his information on the company's crucial early years is second-hand, and indeed, he was only twelve when his Dad sold out to Waddingtons. Like most people, Peter Adolph had talked about writing a book, but had left little in the way of notes. Of course, Peter Adolph did work with Richard Payne on that book, so there is overlap between the books. In addition to that, Mark has  family legends to relate and his childhood impressions of the other characters in the story.

The strength of Mark's biography is in fleshing out Peter Adolph's character and home life. Previously published pictures of a sensibly dressed, balding inventor had done nothing to counter the image of a shy, bird watching, creative toy maker. Yes, Peter Adolph was all of that, but he could also be a bit of a rogue, with fast cars, fast women, and a decent amount of alcohol! Mark does not shy away from the darker moments, and this helps to bring the saga to life. There's plenty of fun times as well though. My favourite image is of Mark, aged about twelve, earning his pocket-money helping deliver players, bases and glue to the ladies of Kent in a van "painted entirely in Subbuteo green with the Subbuteo logo on every available panel", with cockney van-driver Bill drinking tea with the "ladies what stuck" in the Kent countryside. This was the golden age of British toy manufacturers, but Subbuteo seems to have had an eccentricity all of its own.

Teenage Flicks - Memories of the sub-beautiful game.
compiled by Paul Willetts.

 

ISBN 978-1-903660-02-7
Published by Dexter Haven Publishing.

The above three books are the sensible reference section, whereas this little book is the joker in the pack. Remember Richard Payne's great idea of writing to football clubs and managers to ask for their reminisces? This book is simply that idea writ large, with the addition of other celebrities and comedians. Each has a head-shot photograph superimposed onto a Subbuteo player in an appropriate kit. There is a little extra fun here for collectors, deciding what kits are real Subbuteo ones. Frankly, the players are rough and ready - most look repainted by kids. It adds to the do-it-yourself feel of things.

The book is enlivened by the photos of Andi Sapey, many of which are of Stephen Moreton's "Stadium of Fingers". The pictures have captions to suggest that they are "real life". Some will make you grin. The "Spartak Moscow" crowd in the snow is near genius.....

When I first picked up this book, I scanned the impressive index of contributors - "wow, Stan Bowles". Turning to his entry, I found that he talks briefly about managers who used Subbuteo as a tactical aid, before getting sidetracked into his relationship with Brian Clough. Ah. It's not a book to  read cover to cover, because essentially everyone has a similar experience - fiddly to play.... broken players.... scrunched up pitches. You know the drill. Reviews range from Jeff Stelling who clearly loved the camaraderie of his fellow players, to Arthur Smith who hated the whole game!

My overall impression of the entrants is that people who went into artistic jobs (writers, journalists) tended to build stadiums, paint players, and make their own rules. Whereas the professional footballers just played the game. Read into that what you will.

Part 2 - Children's fiction.

The Table Football League
by Chris d'Lacey (1998)

ISBN 0-590-19983-8
Published by Scholastic Children's Books.

As the cover suggests, this is simply a children's novel about Subbuteo. As with "Fifty Years of Flicking Football", there is no mention of Subbuteo on the cover. I assume this was for copyright reasons, or again because of fees for the usage. Inside, the story itself is happy to name-check the game.

The book is the story of five twelve-year-olds, their debut table soccer season, and a badly weighted re-glue who turns out to be a dead-ball specialist. The book comes late in the life of Subbuteo, so the initial joke is that none of the kids actually asked for a Subbuteo set for Christmas. Their dad's having bought it in lieu of more expensive requests, whilst riding the wave of their own nostalgia. The opening scene of the dad setting up the game does give a chance for the author to give a brief run-down of the important rules of the game. It also allows the kid to ask why it is called table soccer when you have to play on the floor..... A poster at school advertising the league brings in Janice, who already plays because her dad is a football manager using a set for tactics, and Andy, whose pitch is an old dark green velvety thing borrowed from his dad.

The one hopeless player in the league dreams of being a football commentator, which is a clever way of humorously describing the action - Subbuteo not really being a spectator sport. It's a gentle book, with no villains (unless you count the cat), and some extra romantic complications resulting from having a girl in the league.*

I must also commend the illustrator Philip Reeve, who really gets into the spirit of things. I would have loved this book as a kid, so the only downside to it is the late publication date. Were there any Subbuteo loving kids you could buy it for by 1998?

*Don't worry. This peril is overstated. I'm over fifty years old, and I'm still yet to play in any sort of mixed league..... (sigh).

Flymo and Shedbuilder
by Terry Edge (1984)

Terry Edge was the secretary of the English Table Football Association in the 1970s, so it made sense that when he became an author, he would use his experiences in table soccer. I must admit that I've never read this one. It has a great cover, although possibly a bit ironic, as Mr Edge disliked the OO scale game, preferring flats.....

Terry was at one stage working on a book of the story of the ETSA battles with Subbuteo Sports Games Limited. Terry's humour would make that one a great read....

Part 3. Time to practise your Italian......

Although Subbuteo originated in the UK, it has to be said that the Italians have adopted it as their own. You can play it in bars nationwide, and there are many more collectors in Italy than there are here. Of course, that love of the game reflects in the choice of books.

Panno Verde Subbuteo. Io, Beverini...
by Stefano Beverini (1980)

 

"Green cloth. Subbuteo - I Beverini..." This oddly named book (perhaps it's lost something in translation) was written by Stefano Beverini, a talented Italian player of the 1970s, and was published in Italy in May 1980. So it really is the grandfather of Subbuteo books.

It is divided into two sections. The first part describes Beverini's life as a Subbuteo tournament player, while the second part is his manual on how to play the game. The pictures above show the front cover of the book, and one of the internal illustrations - here Beverini is getting a cup for being Italian Subbuteo Champion of 1975-76 (I think!). The book appeared in the Edilio Parodi Italian Subbuteo catalogues of the period, so I suppose it is really an official release.

Subbuteo - Storia e Curiosita (the Italian team books).
by Alessio Lupi, and Matteo Lastrucci, with Fabrizio Frazzoni for the h/w book (2018-20).

The modern love of Subbuteo in Italy is reflected in these huge reference books.  They consist of a two volume lightweight catalogue (refs 1-400 in volume one, 401-830 in volume two) written by Messrs Lupi and Lastrucci and published in 2018, plus a heavyweight title from all three authors, published in December 2020.

All three books have a similar format. Each reference number is laid out with crisp photographs of known variations, along with a list of the real life teams that Subbuteo associated with it. The "Storia e Curiosita" of the title are a delight, as the authors focus on one team (often one of the more obscure ones), explaining about their history, performance at the time of Subbuteo production, or perhaps details of the original kit manufacturer etc. The research and work that has gone into these histories is staggering. All is written in Italian of course, but apparently there are mobile phone apps that will translate for you on the fly (and the dates, cups and scores are pretty universal, so you can get plenty from them in any event).

If these illustrated lists were all the books contained, I'd have been impressed, but there is lots more. Both lightweight books have a dated index of references, so you can see which teams were on each reference in each year (I've done a little of this, and it is a lot of work!). The second lightweight volume has a further index by country, plus photos of all the Hasbro sides, non-catalogued teams, and the lightweight Italian specials.

The heavyweight book has even more goodies, with the English and Italian catalogues detailed and illustrated (plus some of the other key European ones). Pictures of all the old heavyweights, including the 1966 World Cup, plus the 1970 World Cup boxes, the Jubilee teams and the Italian specials. Then there are articles on Hybrids, Portuguese, Spanish and Brazilian production, goalkeepers, the special team service, and more. (even the mysteries of Santos and Milano get a look in!). The heavyweight list goes all the way to the final Italian heavyweight reference of 359, which is a discussion UK and Italian collectors need to have, along with the "elephant in the room" that is repainted sides of course. Whilst I am a little suspicious of some of the variations shown, it is important that they are here for discussion. The variations covered are certainly impressive. For example, even within the first ten heavyweight references there are three important variations not on this site - the ref 5 Man City with claret sock trim (I've seen it before, but not with a good picture), the gold ref 6 (like the gold 49, it carried over from the ohw range), and a reverse painted ref 8 i.e. white stripes on a black shirt (I've seen a ref 34 painted like this, but never a ref 8).

A special mention must be given to graphic designer Mauro Pispoli, who was responsible for the overall look of the books. And the credits page is a real "who's who" of the Italian collecting scene. Great work all round.

The books are not cheap - 50 euros for the lightweight set, and 40 for the heavyweight book, but mine have barely left my side since arrival! So they are certainly recommended. If anyone is interested in buying the books they can contact Alessio Lupi at artlibri@tin.it

 A big thank you goes to my friend Fabrizio Frazzoni and fellow authors Alessio Lupi and Matteo Lastrucci for supplying me with the full set of these marvellous books.


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